Neither candidate has been officially nominated yet, but the presidential election campaign in the United States is already in full swing. In fact, the last week was what was described by political observers as the nastiest of the year so far. It was a week that should have been a perfect opening for the presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, as the release of the latest unemployment figures showed that the US economy is still in bad shape. But instead of pounding Barack Obama on a seemingly disappointing job performance, it was the incumbent who took off the gloves. Day after day the Obama campaign hammered at Mitt Romney’s business record, demanding more information about his personal finances and defining the multimillionaire as an out-of-touch elitist. As a result, headlines were not dominated by jobs and the economy, but by Romney’s bank accounts in Switzerland and the Caribbean.
The Democratic attacks escalated on Thursday with fresh accusations that Romney did not leave Bain Capital, an investment company that he co-founded, in 1999 – as he had said – but later. The date is important, as Bain did outsource jobs during the following years. Romney reacted by giving a series of network interviews that aired on Friday, demanding an apology from Obama for the attacks. “This is simply beneath the dignity of the presidency of the United States,” Romney told ABC. Romney called that “Chicago-style politics at its worst” and accused the president, who’s from Chicago, and his campaign of trying to shift attention from the economy and unemployment situation.
But it wasn’t just Obama pressuring Romney. “There is no whining in politics,” said John Weaver, a veteran Republican strategist. “Stop demanding an apology, release your tax returns.” In addition, conservatives commentators on Sunday’s political talk shows expressed their dissatisfaction with Romney’s apparent unwillingness to go on the offensive, as Romney spent the weekend without public events scheduled at one of his family retreats in New Hampshire.
At the same time, Obama stepped up his attacks on Romney on a two-day barnstorming tour across the critical swing state of Virginia. “He invested in companies that have been called pioneers of outsourcing,” the President said in Glen Allen. “I don’t want pioneers in outsourcing, I want some insourcing. I want to bring companies back.” Obama’s campaign also met Romney’s plea for an apology for the attacks with a mocking ad that charged that the firm shipped American jobs to China and Mexico, that Romney has personal wealth in investments in Switzerland, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, and that as Massachusetts governor, he sent state jobs to India. “Mitt Romney’s not the solution. He’s the problem,” the ads says as Romney is heard singing America the Beautiful.
The intensifying attacks and the calls for greater openness came amid stepped up attention to discrepancies between Securities and Exchange Commission filings and Romney’s recollection of his role at Boston-based Bain Capital. At stake is Romney’s chief contention that as a former businessman, he has the experience to create jobs and spur a struggling economy. The Obama campaign has countered that Romney ran a firm that pioneered the practice of sending American jobs out of the country and that his background is one of an investor. Romney insists that he stepped down from his private equity firm years earlier than federal records indicate.
Meanwhile, latest polls in swing states suggest that the President has an edge in Virginia and even in Florida. This should set off alarm bells at the Romney campaign, as it would be virtually impossible for Romney to win the election without carrying Florida. The new Obama ad was set to run in Florida, as well as in closely fought Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Virginia was once deeply conservative, and Republicans still dominate the rural south and west. But growing minority populations in the eastern cities and Washington suburbs, younger and independent-minded military families have transformed Virginia into one of the most important presidential battleground states of the election year. These are the groups that were targeted by Obama on his weekend campaign blitz.
Both campaigns see Virginia as a place where they need to drive home their messages – in person and on the air. For instance, the state’s capital, Richmond, is experiencing a presidential ad offensive like never before. For two months, Richmond has averaged nearly 1,000 presidential TV spots a week. That’s nearly ten times the 151 ads aired in the city four years ago when the state was carried by Barack Obama.